October 31, 2010
Hey everyone! I’m writing to you from Vientiane, the capital city of Laos, and the host city of the Laos Open. It’s Halloween over in the States, but over here it feels just like a normal Sunday in Laos. The streets are empty, the sun is shining, and the locals are sitting around with their friends drinking Beerlaos (the national beer of Laos) at their favorite neighborhood hang out. I’m sitting in our hotel lobby right now with a group of Laotians growing increasingly louder the more drinks they consume, listening to American and Asian pop music all afternoon.
I won my first, last, and only round of the qualifying today, earning a berth into the main draw, which will begin either tomorrow or Tuesday. The qualifying draws for these Asian tournaments are only draws of 32 (as opposed to the draws of 64 and 128 in the States), meaning you only have to win two rounds to receive a qualifying berth into the main draw. Since the turnout in Laos was pretty small, I received a bye in my first round, putting me in the last round of qualifying right off the bat. And in that last round of qualifying I played none other than one of my best friends, travel partner and practice partner over the last couple months, Brad Bator. Ironic, huh? We came all this way, all the way to freaking Laos, to play each other!! We were pretty bummed when we learned we would have to compete against one another for a qualifying spot, knowing that one of us would come up empty handed. But business is business, as there was nothing we could do to avoid it, and we took the court just like we always do in practice together, except this time we were halfway across the globe in Laos, in a professional tournament.
I came out very nervous, thinking not only about playing one of my best friends but also about the valuable spot in the main draw, and the opportunity to compete for precious ATP points. However, I handled the nerves well, playing high percentage tennis with a keen focus on my precise game plan that I had devised from years of practicing with my familiar opponent. We both came out of the gates playing very well, holding serve back and forth until we exchanged breaks late in the first set. At 4-4 I was able to get another break of serve, and had the opportunity to serve for the set up 5-4. But Brad kept battling, came out firing, and took a love-40 lead in the game, with three break point opportunities to even the set. I took a little bit extra time here between points, going to my towel and taking my time to pick the balls I wanted to serve with. A couple big serves and a big forehand later, I had evened the game at deuce, swinging momentum in my favor and seeming to rattle Brad a little bit. That was the edge I needed, and two points later I had clinched the first set 6-4.
Taking the first set eased my nerves quite a bit, and I was able to relax and let loose on my shots a little bit more in the second set. I was hitting my groundstrokes a little harder, serving a little bigger, and was able to take a little more risk on my shots comfortably. I got a break of serve midway through the second set and ran with it, closing the match out 6-4 6-2.
Like I said, we were bummed that we had to play one another, knowing that one of us would come up short of the main draw. The win was tough and bittersweet. But we both felt we played very well, and we were both very respectful and sportsmanlike throughout the match, making it a pleasure and a great experience to look back on. It’s going to be pretty cool to say that we got the opportunity to play each other in a professional tennis tournament in Laos. That’s a cool story we are going to have for the rest of our lives, and what is most important about this trip…
The tournament has been a joy to compete in so far…The site that we are playing at is beautiful, the new Laos national stadium, which was built just last year specifically for the SEA Games, a multi-sport event that takes place once every two years, like an Olympics for the nations of Southeast Asia. However, it’s evident that once the SEA Games were over, the facility had been neglected and unused in the last year. No one hits on the tennis courts during the year, and the huge two-story office building that looms over the courts is completely barren, with cobwebs over the doors and mud in the hallways. But to their credit, the Lao Tennis Federation has done an incredible job with the tournament and cleaning up the facility, and there will be a grand “re-opening” ceremony of the stadium tomorrow morning before the main draw begins. They do a great job taking care of the players, providing ball kids and linesmen for every match, including the qualifying. They provide us with a huge buffet breakfast, very comfortable transportation to and from the tournament (the site is 25 minutes from the hotel, way on the outskirts of town), and all the bottled water we could need. And I’m sure as the main draw begins the amenities will increase even more! There are only a couple people in the tournament staff that speak English, but the ones that do are very helpful and accommodating.
So now I’m in the main draw of singles, and am awaiting the draw and schedule of play to be released. Brad and I attempted to get into the doubles draw, but we were denied because we both don’t have any ATP points. However, it will give me a good chance to focus on my singles this week, as I have been playing extremely well and feel that I have a real good shot at this tournament. I will play my first round match either today and tomorrow, and I’ll found out whom I’m playing later this evening. Stay tuned for updates from the Laos Open, and thanks for reading!!